The gerbil home will need to have solid sides to avoid sawdust flying everywhere. Some plastic cages are available, but aquariums are fine if a chicken wire lid is made from a wooden frame. Do not site cages in direct sunlight, it can cause heat exhaustion which can be fatal. Sawdust can be used as litter, but preferably not pine if you are going to breed gerbils. As mentioned earlier it is best to provide gerbils with a multitude of different toys.
Gerbils are very active creatures and thus need plenty of space to move around. Small enclosures are widely accepted as being cruel and should be avoided. Animals forced to live in cramped areas can become aggressive and turn on one another, while breeding activity becomes a near impossibility.
Don't imagine that having a cramped home, but allowing the animal out for a supervised run every so often is the answer. The enclosure is the gerbils home and this will determine if your animal will be happy or otherwise. Generally two gerbils need an area about 75 cms by 45 cms and a minimum height of 30 cms.
Wide Base Clear Top Enclosure For Gerbils
There are enclosures on the market made from a durable plastic, that has an opaque base and a clear upper section, with a metal bar frame that slides along the top. The construction is such that the top clear plastic section comes away from the lower dark plastic area, thus allowing easy access and cleaning. Also this mainly solid plastic construction helps to prevent problems with drafts and in general these enclosures make ideal gerbil homes.
Aquarium For Gerbils
An aquarium with a length of over four feet, gives your gerbils the running area that they will appreciate and this factor has prompted many gerbil carers to adopt this form of enclosure. You can purchase them from pet shops in either glass or a clear plastic construction, though these latter ones may suffer from scratching over a long period. It should be noted that you may be able to obtain an aquarium that cannot be used for fish, because of leaking, but is still ideal for gerbils. A potential problem with aquariums is that a lack of air circulation can occur if too many gerbils are housed together. Aquariums though, are easy to clean and maintain.
Plastic Hamster "Habitrail" Style Enclosures For Gerbils
These enclosures are superb for Hamsters and give them a wonderful home that can be added to with lots of different sections, that could eventually build up into an amazing complex. I have experimented with them for gerbils but subsequently found that they are demolished quickly by the gerbils natural chewing tendencies. The plastic cannot withstand a prolonged gnawing onslaught, so for this reason I would advise that this form of enclosure should be avoided for gerbils.
Cages For Gerbils
Cages made with metal bars all around should be avoided, primarily because the gerbils will gnaw the bars and give themselves sores on their noses. You will also experience bedding and floor covering material being thrown out by gerbils burrowing activities, which will be very frustrating for those trying to keep the home clean. Painted metal areas may also be prone to rust when the gerbils corrosive waste products act upon them. This paint will be consumed by the gerbils when they chew.
How To Build A Gerbil Cage
Hagen Small Pet Pens For Gerbils
One form of enclosure that is popular is the "Small Pet Pens" range made by the Hagen group and they come in many different sizes and colours. They are very handy for transportation, while you clean out their main home, for pups just weaned from their mothers and for sick gerbils - but are a little too small for every day use as a permanent home for adult gerbils. That said many gerbil owners have these pens, because they prove useful in many ways.
Wooden Enclosures For Gerbils
Some gerbil carers construct enclosures from wood, but there a couple of major drawbacks to using this material. Firstly, the wood will be hard to keep clean and whole sections will need to be replaced regularly. Secondly your Gerbils will eventually gnaw through the wood and escape. For these reasons we would advise against wooden enclosures.
Whatever form of enclosure you do decide upon, remember that your gerbils need to be safe from escape, because an escaped animal may be very difficult to find and may die without the normal food and water it relies upon. Also the enclosure should be safe from other animals getting in, such as cats and dogs - who will kill gerbils through instinct. Provide a comfortable home and your gerbils will live happy, contented lives.
The litter should be a mixture of fresh Irish moss peat, and chopped straw, with some pre-packed seed compost if you want. This is added in a layer of about 15cm/6" deep. The soil should be slightly damp, but not even damp, certainly not wet. Just a little moisture is needed to keep the soil together. Then compact it down each time it is changed but not when the gerbils are in the cage. They could dig themselves out of a collapsed tunnel but, not a compacted one! The bedding required should be clean white paper, as the ink may be poisonous. Shred it before adding it to the cage. Pieces of fruit tree wood can then be used as play things in particular in this set up.
Your gerbils will then dig their own burrows, and nests. The may change these, especially if disturbed. Cleaning can be less frequent than with other bedding, about a month or two.
Gerbil Enclosure Furnishing
In general I would recommend that as many furnishings as possible be made from approved non-toxic soft-wood, because they are hard wearing and your pets will be encouraged to gnaw at them.
You could also purchase clay, glazed or unglazed items which are fine for gerbils, because their chewing actions have hardly any effect upon them. Plastic materials look fine and are heavily marketed, but they are very impractical and will be chewed to bits in no time by mature gerbils. The dust produced from gnawed plastic could again prove toxic if consumed.
Gerbils like to make a nest. If a home is provided they may use this, or they may well make there nest freestanding. This is of course if any nesting material has been added to the cage. Tissues and kitchen roll (preferably unbleached white ones) can be used. Cotton wool must not be used as when the gerbils chew it the fibres can get caught in their teeth, be inhaled and irritate an air way, or be ingested and make the gerbil sick.
The gerbil's nest itself can be any size depending on how much nesting material is given.
Gerbil Nest Boxes
I have used both clay and wooden boxes and find them fine. Wooden boxes can be made by yourself or purchased ready to use, with detachable parts to allow cleaning and inspecting if pups come along.
One of my favourite types of box, is made from clay is shaped like a barrel and has five entrances which the gerbils love constantly exploring. Wooden boxes too can be shaped after different items and it is a matter of taste which ones you choose.
Feeding & Water Items For Gerbils
Water should be given in the form of a bottle that is either hung inside the enclosure or outside with a hole for the drinking tube. The drinking tube will have a ball-bearing that stops the water normally flowing out, though will release fluid when the gerbil comes to drink.
Make sure that the bottle is at the right angle and that nothing is touching the end of the tube, or you may find that the water all runs out and soaks much of the cage! The construction of the bottle should be mainly plastic and metal for the tube. Avoid bottles that have glass, because this could easily shatter with gnawing and harm your pet.
Food containers should not be made from plastic, because it will be gnawed in no time and is too light to withstand the gerbils activities. I use glazed food dishes that come in a range of sizes and are readily available from most pet stores. They are heavy, so do not get knocked over too easily and can be cleaned effectively.
Gerbils like wheels and it can be fun watching them try to master the timing required to get off once they have started. But this enjoyment can only be safe if you follow some easy steps for your animals safety.
Do not purchase wheels that have been designed for hamsters and have gaps in the construction which the tail of your gerbil could get caught in and trapped, leading to serious injury and amputation. Only buy the solid wheels which are safer, though these come mainly in plastic so expect the item to "disappear" after a little while.
No gerbil enclosure should be without toys of some kind or another and indeed rotation of toys helps to avoid boredom among your gerbils.
Again, wood is the preferred material because it will withstand chewing.
Ideas for toys include balls, barrels, ramps, bells etc. One thing that I have found to go down well is imitation items, such as cheeses and tomatoes which are not made from wood - but do not suffer the same destruction as plastic for some unknown reason. Just a plain used cardboard toilet roll will give your Gerbils a few minutes of frantic fun!
If your cage has no shelving they will enjoy jumping and running around any shelves you make. These should be made of wood, you could use MDF but definitely do not paint it. Screws should be countersunk so that they do not harm your gerbils. It is also probably advisable not to use glue. Pieces of unpainted wood or purchased wooden chews could be added to the cage as gerbils should chew, to keep their teeth in good condition. It is advisable not to add too many things at once, just enough to keep your gerbil active.
Gerbil Floor Coverings
Sawdust For Gerbils:
Many small rodent keepers use sawdust and this is ideal for gerbils, but there are a few points to consider before buying in bulk from a wood merchant happy to off load the sawdust produced.
All sawdust must be guaranteed free of any chemicals, because this will have disastrous results for our gerbils. Always use sawdust from a good pet shop, which has been designed for use by rodents as this guarantees that it comes from a reliable source.
When you put sawdust into the enclosure deeply the gerbils will love tunnelling through it and this imitates their natural instincts. But, you will find that everything gets covered with sawdust within a little while as the little terrors tunnel away, and as the sawdust deteriorates, it will give off dust that may irritate your gerbils sensitive areas.
Wood Shavings For Gerbils:
We use wood shavings designed for pets and this helps to avoid much of the dust that comes from sawdust. But when gerbils tunnel the shavings are not as steady and your furnishings can topple away, especially the food bowls, so it maybe a good idea to stand important items on the wooden blocks that can be purchased from pet shops. Remember also that gerbils urine and any spilt water will not be absorbed to the same degree as sawdust.
Sand For Gerbils:
This is another alternative, but be warned that sand can get every where - especially the carpet. Sand is very natural and will allow effective tunnelling to be done that your animals will appreciate and you can construct special enclosures from glass that allow you to watch the animals as they negotiate their way around the labyrinth of tunnels.
Sand has a poor ability to soak up waste products, though like any other material needs to be removed regularly and cleaning out sand is a thankless task! If you are determined to use sand, purchase non-toxic children's play-pen sand from do-it-yourself outlets.
Some people use newspaper, but the paper and print may contain harmful chemicals that may poison gerbils. Peat can be used though it will make your animals appear very dirty.
Other materials include, crushed corncobs and manufactured pet materials, though you should of course ensure that any materials are free of agents that could poison or irritate gerbils.
Gerbil Bedding Materials
I have found that the best bedding material is paper wool, because it is warm and does not irritate gerbils. It comes in a packet and is condensed so a little placed into the enclosure will soon expand as the gerbils go to work. It provides warmth and is naturally safe for gerbils.
Tissue paper and paper kitchen towels will soon become shredded by your gerbils. Indeed we like to stuff tissue into toilet rolls and kitchen rolls, which usually prompts a determined effort to extract the materials, by your gerbils that presents them with a challenge.
If you put card board-boxes into the enclosure, your gerbils will chew these up and add them to the bedding materials provided. After a good clean out your Gerbils will get to work making the bedding and other materials into a warm nest in no time.
You should avoid any materials that may appear okay, but will harm gerbils, which would include wool, nylon, cotton thread and soft plastic. Your pets could wrap these materials around their necks and limbs, causing nasty injuries or fatal results.